Ethiopia Amhara 'coup ringleader killed'

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Brig-Gen AsaminewImage source, YOUTUBE/ALEM GENA TUBE
Image caption,
The renegade general was released from prison last year

The suspected ringleader of Saturday's failed coup attempt in Ethiopia's Amhara region has been shot dead, police say.

Brig Gen Asaminew Tsige was killed as he attempted to escape from his hideout in Amhara's capital, police added.

Ethiopia's army chief Gen Seare Mekonnen was killed while trying to foil the coup, the government said.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has urged Ethiopians to unite against "evil" forces set on dividing the country.

Flags are flying at half-mast after the government declared a day of mourning to mark the deaths of loyalists.

Gen Seare and Amhara governor Ambachew Mekonnen, who was also killed on Saturday, were seen as close allies of the prime minister.

A heavy contingent of pro-government forces has been deployed in Amhara's capital, Bahir Dar, and the federal capital, Addis Ababa.

The internet has been shut across the country, days after services resumed following an unexplained blackout of more than a week.

The US state department has warned its staff in Addis Ababa to stay inside.

Ethnic violence has hit Amhara and other parts of Ethiopia in recent years.

Since his election last year, Mr Abiy has transformed Ethiopia.

He has moved to end political repression by releasing political prisoners, removing bans on opposition political parties and overseeing the prosecution of officials accused of human rights abuses. He has also restored diplomatic relations with Ethiopia's former long-time adversary, Eritrea.

But his reforms have taken on powerful interest groups in the military and the ruling coalition.

Mr Abiy survived a grenade attack at a rally a year ago on Sunday, which killed two people and left more than 100 injured.

Africa's oldest independent country, Ethiopia is also the continent's second most populous after Nigeria, with 102.5 million inhabitants from more than 80 different ethnic groups.

A transfer hub for long-haul air travel, it has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, but a vast number of young Ethiopians are without work.

Who was the alleged ringleader?

Media caption,

PM's spokeswoman gives details of army chief's assassination

Gen Asaminew was Amhara's regional security chief, and was said to have a significant following among young people.

He was among a group of high-ranking military officers released from prison early last year when the government moved to free political detainees in response to public pressure.

The general had been in custody for nine years for allegedly plotting a coup.

Why did the coup take place?

While details of the coup are still emerging, news of Gen Asaminew's alleged bid for power was not a surprise for some Ethiopians.

Gen Asaminew is a member of the Amhara, the country's second largest ethic group.

He had a reputation for hardline ethnic nationalism and had previously called for the Amhara people to have greater autonomy.

Earlier this month, in a video on social media, he had also openly advised the Amhara to arm themselves.

Gen Asaminew had a bad relationship with the Tigray regional government as well.

The government claimed that Gen Seare and another general, Gezai Abera, had been killed because they came from the minority Tigray ethnic group.

A toxic political atmosphere

By Emmanuel Igunza, BBC Africa

These are tumultuous times for Ethiopia and Prime Minister Abiy, who is already facing increased ethnic tensions.

Chief of staff Seare Mekonnen had only served as head of the military for a year having being appointed by Mr Abiy, who made sweeping changes in the security apparatus when he took office last April.

It is clear there is still significant opposition within the military to the prime minister's style of leadership.

The killing of Amhara's governor is also a big blow for Mr Abiy, who is credited with installing Ambachew Mekonnen in office.

He was a key ally in Amhara, which is itself facing security problems and clamour from some groups for greater autonomy from the central government.

The first general election since Mr Abiy came to power is supposed to be held next year, but it is very hard to see how this will go ahead in a country that is highly polarised. The atmosphere is just too toxic.

What has been the reaction internationally?

The US, a key ally of Ethiopia, has condemned the unrest.

It was probably linked to the "vestiges of the old regime" unhappy with Mr Abiy's reforms, including the fact that he was targeting "ill-gotten gains", the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy, said during a visit to South Africa on Sunday.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Prime Minister Abiy appeared on TV wearing military fatigues

He added that Ethiopia's model of ethnic federalism has also led to "incredible internal pressures".

"And that boiling pot with a lid on it also included disenfranchisement, tremendous unhappiness on the part of the young people because of lost opportunities, who also lost any kind of political expression.

"So when Abiy came in he had to start taking the top off the boiling kettle. And however he takes it off there's going to be some steam coming out," Mr Nagy was quoted by South Africa's Daily Maverick news site as saying.

What do we know about the attacks?

Gen Seare was killed on Saturday evening by his bodyguard, the prime minister's press office said.

The bodyguard killed himself immediately afterwards, police said on Monday, contrary to earlier reports that he had been arrested.

Gen Gezai was also killed at Gen Seare's residence, the prime minister's press office said.

Image source, Ethiopian TV
Image caption,
Gen Seare Mekonnen's death was confirmed by TV channels

The government said it had reason to think the attack was linked to the assassination of the governor of Amhara, Mr Ambachew, a few hours earlier in Bahir Dar.

Mr Ambachew was killed at a meeting in his office along with his senior adviser, Ezez Wasie.

The region's attorney general was wounded in the attack, and has since died, state media reports.

The funerals of some of the officials are due to take place on Tuesday.

Lake Ayalew has now been appointed as the region's acting governor.

Many of those involved in the coup attempt are under arrest and operations are in progress to detain others, the PM's press office said.

"The coup attempt in Amhara regional state is against the constitution and is intended to scupper the hard-won peace of the region," it added.